Friday, October 30, 2009

Bad Reviews--Good Bad vs. Bad Bad

Yesterday, Craig Morgan Teicher, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly who this week is blogging for The Best American Poetry, posed the following question: I'm curious whether readers of this blog read many reviews, especially of poetry, and whether they write them, either on blogs or for print or online lit mags or newspapers or wherever. Why do you do it--reading or writing? I thought I'd respond here. Yes, I read reviews--lots of them, and not just poetry reviews but fiction and nonfiction reviews as well. While I don't write reviews, I frequently write jacket copy for the books I publish (if blurbs don't take up most of the room) and similar copy for press releases and such. I do it, of course, to promote Bear Stars and their books; it's my job. I read reviews to get a sense of what's out there and might be worth my dollar, or because I like the writing itself. In fact, I came by one of my most indispensable guides in editing, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner, after reading a long, humorous endorsement in Harper's many years ago by the late David Foster Wallace ("Tense Present" can be Googled if you're interested, and it's also contained in his wonderful collection of essays Consider the Lobster). I consult it almost as frequently as The Chicago Manual of Style.

So what about bad reviews? Do they have a place? I think they do, but can we please distinguish between good bad reviews and bad bad reviews? A good bad one will lay out a case for why a book is not worth your time, with examples, and will asperse* thoughtfully, in a clear manner. It won't misquote the author and it won't trash the book in order to show off the reviewer's superior IQ. The GBR can point out to an author how and where the text seems to be lacking, and what's so terrible about that? Nobody ever wants a bad review, but a GBR can at least lead to an author writing/thinking better the next time out, or to an editor being more careful. A bad bad review serves no one. The worst book review I ever read was in response to a book from this very press. Here are just a few reasons it so terribly sucked: 1) the reviewer misquoted a poem. Worse, she introduced a punctuation error where there had been none--it's for its. That made both the author and me look stupid; 2) it was filled with jargon the reviewer deployed clumsily. True, the journal was the organ of a graduate program in women's studies, but there's no excuse for crappy syntax AND incomprehensible arguments, though I suppose the first leads rather quickly to the second; 3) there was nothing to learn from it and the writing was joyless.

By the way, Mr. Teicher, if you would like to review Bear Star's latest offerings, there's no need to request copies. You already have them somewhere. Just dig into that pile.

*from Garner: "asperse (= to disparage; criticize harshly), a little-known but useful verb--e.g.: 'Fazio et al. should cast their barbs at ordained character assassins ... rather than aspersing the American majority that claims to be ...'"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Or a book of poems for less than that?

If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? ~David Gernert, agent for John Grisham

If you love good books, and why would you be reading this blog if you didn't, the ABA's letter to the Department of Justice is worth a skim. In essence, it asserts that independent bookstores are being asked to compete against stores for which books are being used as teaser items--loss leaders--to get customers in the door (or e-door) to buy other kinds of merchandise, thereby garnering WalMart, Target, et al, control of the hardcover market over time. That would spell outta business to independent stores and smaller publishers. The letter can be found here:

On a more upbeat note, last night's reading by Gary Thompson and Quinton Duval at Chico State (closest college to my town) to a full house. Here's a poem by each of them.


There isn't much to say about beauty
these days, except that it isn't truth,
unless truth is glossy
and monthly. This is America

the goddamned beautiful
in the twenty-first century,
not Hampstead Heath
in the nineteenth, and we know

the bride is ravished
long before the bridal shower, the tree
logged off before autumn even comes.
Beauty is money, John,

and you know what urns are for.

~Gary Thompson,
To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us (Turning Point, 2008)


And as the rain fell down, silver
dropped from the corrugated tin
roof edge, but there was no blue
to be had in any direction. "Degrees
of Gray" -- the poet said -- hung over
the sea, curtains on November's stage.
Last night we heard geese battling
their way through the storm
while satellite weather showed a mass
of rain and wind come from across the sea
(the Pacific, of all seas) sweeping east
to draw its veil over our house.
It was weather, just one more thing
to wash color from our lives.
I was blue and I don't know what
you were singing. In the grey
I tried not to show it, my cobalt blush
hidden in the dark. I felt I was from over
the sea -- oltremarino -- if that is blue,
if that is a feeling at all. Alien
is one word for it -- out of place and time --
wishing to go into the grey like those geese,
to wash clean in the weather, flying
by instinct and taut to the group
of strangers I travel with, all of us heading
to the place of instinct, to the reeds,
among islands that await our raucous calling.

~Quinton Duval,
Among Summer Pines (Rattlesnake Press, 2008)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Up She Rises

Welcome to the blog for Bear Star Press!

I intend this to be a place for news about the press and its authors as well as whatever else I feel like talking or ranting about. Usually there's something.

Today, for instance, I'm pondering the news that Google is planning to give Amazon a run for its bazillions by opening its own e-store. Unlike Amazon, though, Google Editions will be downloadable to "any device with a web browser." Any device. Take that, Kindle. This is great news for those of us who think Jeff Bezos has had far too long a reign as master of the universe. Hat tip to the MobyLives blog (one of my favorites: for waking me up to good news this morning. Yes, I have my issues with Google, too, but I'll save 'em for another post.

I'd like to remind you that Bear Star's annual poetry contest is open for submissions until the end of November. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in 2010 (most likely by early fall). Those of you thinking about entering may want to sample the poems by previous winners elsewhere on this site. Know that we receive 95% of our entries during the last two weeks. It gets crazy around here then! If you have a manuscript you'd like to send us, consider putting it in the mail sooner--it will definitely get a little more TLR* that way. Remember that you must be a poet living in a state west of the central time zone to be eligible. So what about you poets from Fargo? Yes, you can submit, because part of North Dakota (where our esteemed prize donor was born) is west of the CTZ. There are time zone maps in your phone book if you're not sure of your eligibility. Please check our guidelines page for other requirements.

*R = Reading